Got a chance to go inside the new U.S. embassy today. It's been open several months, but it's still got that "new car" feel and smell to it. Especially after waiting outside with the Peruvian private security guards for an embassy escort in 116 degrees and a sandstorm kicking up dust devils.
The two briefings were excellent, and a reporter's mental whiteboard was filled with useful information. A couple liters of water and a couple peanut butter cookies from the canteen provided by the escort made the trip even more worthwhile.
Got there in a cab, after walking across the 14th of July Bridge, named for the 1958 coup led by a general against the monarch family that had been ruling Iraq. Actually, under the bridge on a pathway where Iraqi Army guards checked IDs, did a sonar search and let Laith, our reporter, and me proceed. Then we grabbed a taxi at the other end for the five-minute trip to one of the embassy gates.
Coming out, I was sent across the wide street running in front of the quarter-mile-long embassy campus by Peruvian guards, who said in Spanish that you couldn't get a taxi on that side. So I crossed to an Iraqi Army camouflaged shelter. There, three enlisted soldiers looked at my notebook where Laith had written the name of the bridge in Arabic. Besides honorifics, my Arabic is nonexistent, but they understood "taxi." They seemed to be telling me there were no taxis.
I called Laith, who told them where I wanted to go, so I could walk back across the bridge and be picked up by him and our drivers. The biggest soldier--they were all in their early 20s--rattled off several Arabic sentences, saw he was dealing with a dummy and pulled me a few meters up the road and behind a tall blast wall.
"No camera," he said, pointing up. I told him I didn't have a camera. Then he said, "No captain." It took a couple seconds, then the dinar dropped. He'd moved us out of camera range so his superior wouldn't see what he was up to. We both cracked up laughing. He was pulling one of the oldest tricks in the military book--putting one over on an officer. "My friend," he repeated several times, still laughing.
Meanwhile, one of the other soldiers trotted to a parking lot nearby and drove back in a Toyota. "Taxi," the big guy said. He ushered me in to what clearly was a private car, saluted while laughing and I yelled "Shukran, shukran!" ("Thank you!") several times.
Five minutes later, his fellow enlisted man let me out at the walkway over the bridge. I offered him money. He shook his head. He shook my hand. I walked back across the Tigris River and met Laith.
No way those guys could've known they were dealing with another enlisted man, though one who did his time long before they were born.